How to overcome Imposter Syndrome?Jan 20, 2021
- Have you ever felt like a fraud?
- Have you ever felt frozen like a deer in headlights?
- Have you ever felt paralyzed in the middle of a meeting just to remember everything you wanted to share the minute it was over?
- Do you sometimes hear little petty voices that asks you: Who you think you are? Why do you think others will listen to you? Do you really know what you are talking about? They will laugh at you after you are done?
- Do you feel that you have just been lucky to have achieved what you did so far, that sooner or later people around you will find you out, will know that you do not know what you are doing, that you are a fraud, and that you have been just in the right place at the right time?
- That despite your credibility and success, both well-deserved, you start to really believe those doubts deep inside, that it starts ruling your life. Do you doubt if you will finish the project on time and on budget, or if your team will see you as a confident leader?
I know I did have all these emotions and feelings, and sometimes they kind of creep in. These are all feelings of self-doubt, when they take control of our brain, they inhibit any other feelings of self-worth. These feelings can shut down our cognitive abilities when we need them most and push us in the fight, flight or freeze mode that we inherited from our cavemen ancestors when a danger occurs or is perceived.
Well, you are not alone, we ALL felt that way at one time or another. This fear has a name and is called “Imposter Syndrome”
For the first few years of my career, I was the poster child of Imposter syndrome, especially while wanting to be invisible growing up.
I earned a Medical Degree, spoke five languages, and learned international marketing. I was the youngest manager, then youngest director but no matter how many degrees and awards I earned, no matter how high my position was, no matter how much “well put together” I looked on the outside, I was crumbling inside.
I matched the society’s traditional definition of success. But inside I was miserable, never believed I was a big deal, sometimes even feeling embarrassed talking about my achievements, getting embarrassed when I received praised, not feeling worthy at times as if I didn’t deserve it.
I just felt I was lucky, or felt that the environment helped me, or my boss liked me, or I was the only one around at the time, that somehow I managed to fool the people around me. I was always anxious and waiting for the other shoe to drop where everyone will find out I was a fraud. Can you relate to that?
I always prided myself on being genuine, but the more I felt like a fraud the more I felt like a phony starting an internal dilemma inside of me, these feelings were so negative and self-destructive that I wanted to do anything at all to lessen or avoid those feelings. I thought if I worked harder, if I studied more, if I did more, if I never said NO, if I tried to please everyone around me, if I earned more degrees or accolades I will be able to drive away the fear of being discovered as a fraud.
But everything I achieved just managed to increase my anxiety and stress as in my mind it increased chances of being discovered.
I externalized the wins and internalized failures and setbacks. I became fixated on not making a mistake, I was very careful taking risks, I became reactive rather than proactive, working harder than anyone else as I was convinced that I was the only one not up to the job; exactly the opposite of how everyone else saw me.
That deep fear of failing stopped me from speaking up, or from even asking questions for fear of saying something stupid, and people would find out I don’t really know my business.
I was constantly waiting for that project that I wouldn’t be able to finish, despite my track record of successfully delivering, to prove my self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Because of my Impostor feelings, I was unable to internalize past and current success, and I could not alleviate my feelings of inadequacy.
"Impostor" syndrome"— feelings of self-doubt or feeling like a fraud, feeling that you have somehow fooled everyone around all these years, that you have somehow succeeded to fake it till you made it, plagues more successful women than men, though men suffer from it as well.
The term was coined by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who published an article called "The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" in the 1978 journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice.
In the dictionary: impostor syndrome noun is the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success: Students from working-class backgrounds often suffer from impostor syndrome, a deep-seated sense that the world of high culture is not for them.
Imposter syndrome if magnified is a self-sabotaging system where one feels not good enough, worrying about failure. It is a psychological phenomenon where one feels that they do not deserve success that no matter what they achieved, was just pure luck just being in the right place at the right time around the right people.
Imposter syndrome is not necessarily a symptom of low self-confidence or low self-esteem. It can also affect very highly successful people, and has nothing to do with how educated they are, or how many certifications they hold; the roots of the syndrome might lie deep in their upbringing, family dynamics and cultures.
Why does imposter syndrome exist?
The first function of the brain is to protect us and keep us safe from real or perceived harm. Unfortunately our brains never evolved since the cavemen era. It fails to understand that we are no longer in continuous danger needing to depend on our survival instincts.
The brain will try to keep us in our comfort zone, the moment we push out of it. It regurgitates every single challenge, obstacle, setback or even failure that we either had or heard about from someone else, our brain pulls us back to safety through the 3 "F" system (Fight, flight, or freeze).
The default of our brain thinking is “negative thinking” which is the process of thinking negative rather than thinking positive. Positive thinking requires a lot more blood supply and a conscientious effort while negative thinking is uninvited and happens easily.
Our backgrounds, cultures, genders, race, family situations, parents and teachers affect our beliefs, attitudes, and messages we grow up with, that may contribute to the development of imposter feelings.
Did you grow up in a critical family that emphasized the one “B” in your grades than praising you on all the “A”s you received imposing unrealistic standards and expectations creating a feeling on non-worthiness, doubting your own intelligence?
Imposter syndrome is generally divided to three main categories:
1. Feeling as if your success was pure luck and you had nothing to do with it.
2. You are a fraud
3. Discounting success as if it was no big deal
How to deal with the Imposter Syndrome?
The first step to start dealing with Imposter syndrome is to understand it and remove any associations of shame or disgrace related to it, recognizing that we all have it in different degrees, it is natural and normal.
When you catch yourself feeling as an imposter, start differentiating between feelings and reality. Feeling strongly about something doesn’t make it right or a reality for example “If I feel so strongly about not being worthy then I must be non-worthy”.
The good news is that we do not have to be stuck in Imposter syndrome forever. I did deal with my own imposter syndrome.
It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t a walk in the park, and it didn’t happen overnight. After I started realizing how my feelings of misery and anxiety were rubbing me from my own life, I committed myself to change myself from the inside out. I realized I was wasting my life, talent and most of all happiness. The Imposter feelings affected even my personal life, I didn’t feel worthy to be loved the right way.
I started one step at a time. I started turning the Imposter syndrome to work to my advantage.
In its positive manifestation, imposter syndrome acts as a survival mechanism; so I used feeling anxious or fearful of making mistakes to render myself sharper and more attentive to what I am doing to achieve my goals and dreams, being grateful and satisfied with the results regardless of whatever anyone else thinks.
I realized that the more I tried to ignore, avoid, or flee the negative thoughts, the more feelings that attend to imposter syndrome intensified.
Part of my journey facing my imposter feelings is truly accepting and admitting that I deserve the success I worked so hard for, I paid dearly for it, and that I am good enough and smart enough to demand the recognition.
I learned the importance of assertiveness and how to say "No", rather than trying to please everyone.
I learned to accept praise and compliments (this was the hardest part) without turning red or feeling shy by simply answering "Thank you" genuinely in response to kind words.
I claimed my role in the success of any projects I did, gave credits when due, but owned my success and even bragged a bit about it. I deserved it. I stopped making excuses, dealt with my own limiting beliefs bit by bit.
In summary I took back my life and accepted myself inside out and accepted my perfect imperfections. I understood that perception of reality is subject to mental filters that taint how we act
The plan of attack on the Imposter syndrome is of two parts:
a) Dealing with the fears confronting them and bringing them to the surface
b) Implementing constant committed changes
a) Dealing with the fears
- Face it: Ignoring or hiding from the fears will just make them bigger than they are and they will return with a vengeance.
- Claim it: There is no shame in having fear, we all have them they masquerade as chameleons, different names, and shapes. Owning the fear takes away its power by accepting it without fighting.
- Name it: Labeling the fear is identifying it. Is it a fear of failure, a fear of ridicule, a fear of loss or even a fear of success? It might not be easy in the beginning, but practicing awareness, living in the present, writing things down, meditating asking yourself questions as: Why am I feeling that way? Where did I acquire that fear? When and how did it start? When you name the fear you are feeling you give it a face and become able to deal with it.
- Release it: Get to know your body to realize how fear manifests itself on your body, do you feel anxiety in your heart, does your back spasms, do you get headaches. Focus on the part that is affected while taking deep breaths. Deciding that fear will not control your life is the beginning, then the only choice you will have is to change, shifting your consciousness and taking action.
- Reinvent it: Fear is driven by reversed thinking to obsess about what could go wrong as opposed to what could go right! Reinventing it by reverse engineering it is the best remedy. Make fear your friend, let it serve as a window to your future, Start thinking about the worst case scenario and prepare for it. Instead of thinking what if, start acting AS IF. Say YES instead of saying NO and say NO instead of saying YES.
b) Implementing constant committed changes
- Start internalizing your achievements and start learning to appreciate yourself, your success and accomplishments.
- Empower yourself by being grateful for what you already achieved.
- Learn to be assertive, you will never please everybody all times. Learn to accept compliments and gratitude, and learn to say NO in a positive way.
- Practice deep breathing and meditation even for few minutes a day
- Live your life the way you want to live it, not based on anyone else’s expectations, learn that it is fine to be vulnerable that it is a beauty of the human soul and mind.
- We are not supposed to be jacks of all trades (masters of none), we are not supposed to be experts in everything in life. Asking for help is not a weakness
- Own who you are, accept it internally and externally, do not wait for anyone’s to validate us, or a permission to be who you are.
- Write down at least 2 successes for every year of the last ten years no matter how big or small they are. You will have 20 successes written in front of your eyes. Writing organizes your thoughts and helps you make sense of your life, and also internalizing your successes helps boost your self esteem
- Replace toxic thinking with positive ones with an attitude of “I CAN” rather than doubt
- Get rid of toxic people in your life that show you why you can’t make it rather than why you should make it
- Practice kindness to yourself to learn to be kind to others
- Believe that everything in your life starts and ends with YOU- You are the master of your destiny
It is perfectly fine to stumble and fall sometimes, obstacles are opportunities in disguise. Life will never be pretty all the time, and is not meant to be pretty all the time, success will not be constant all the time, and failure is never constant either, there will be ups and downs and we need to ride the wave no matter how tall it is, and enjoy it like the surfers do.
Every now and then, I still suffer from those imposter feelings I realize that they will never go away completely, but now I know what to do and how to deal with it.
Now that you have a name for what you have been feeling, what are you going to do to overcome your imposter syndrome?
Are you ready to start the journey of becoming “BEST of ME” version of you yet?
My name is Sahar Andrade, I help organizations increase their employee engagement by investing in Diversity/Inclusion practices as well as through Leadership Development.
I also help successful Individuals that are stuck to reinvent their lives with courage, release their fears, get clarity on their purpose and pursue their dreams.
My teachings, my unique education and experience combined with singular approach to realizing change, form a proven system for long lasting positive transformation. My methodology is based on human psychology and research to break down issues, reverse engineer them, and deconstruct personal myths, while developing personal leadership skills development. It is a simple step by step program, modules, exercises, one on one and group coaching.
I am the author of “49 things about Entrepreneurship: That experts do not want you to know” on Amazon.
This is my TED TALK : Overcoming Negative Thoughts
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